INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning could be an even bigger pain in the neck for NFL defenses next season, now that he's finally healthy.
"I'm out here throwing, and I'll no longer have to get the treatment that I've been getting for the last four years," Manning said Friday as the Indianapolis Colts opened their three-day minicamp. "It's a great relief."
Manning had surgery in March to fix a pinched nerve in his neck. Before that, he had 25-minute treatments as many as three times daily for four seasons.
The injury certainly didn't slow him down much.
During those four years, Manning won two of his four NFL MVP awards, made four playoff appearances, claimed one Super Bowl title and nearly had another.
And now he's full strength.
"I feel good," Manning said. "All my symptoms and issues that I've been dealing with for the last four years have subsided."
Manning wasn't the only Colts starter feeling better on the first day of the mandatory minicamp. Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has made appearances on the practice field over the past several weeks -- a scene he hopes will become more regular next season.
Sanders, a two-time Pro Bowl safety, has played in just eight games the past two seasons, and during the last three years, he has became almost a permanent spectator during offseason team activities, training camp and regular-season practices.
"It's fun to get out there and compete and enjoy the weather," Sanders said. "This is the first time I've been able to do OTAs in years. I've always been rehabbing a lot and spending a lot of time in the training room. It feels great to not go into the training room and going into the weight room."
Perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney also is getting healthy as he rehabilitates the torn ligament in his right ankle. Freeney didn't undergo surgery and hasn't yet practiced, although he hopes to be on the field at the start of training camp.
The other big issue at Colts minicamp was holdouts. Three Pro Bowl players -- safety Antoine Bethea, defensive end Robert Mathis and wide receiver Reggie Wayne -- skipped Friday's workout and don't plan to participate in practice Saturday or Sunday, either.
Bethea still hasn't accepted the team's one-year, $2.521 million tender, and he can't participate until he signs.
Mathis and Wayne both want to renegotiate their contracts, which have two years left. Wayne issued a statement through his agent, Joby Branion, saying he would continue to work out in Florida as he usually does. But veteran holdouts have been rare during Bill Polian's tenure in Indianapolis.
"I have tremendous respect for (owner) Jim Irsay, (president) Bill Polian and the entire Indianapolis Colts organization, but at this time, we are in disagreement concerning my contract situation," Wayne said. "Therefore, I will not be attending this week's minicamp.
"I hope that a fair resolution can be reached in the not-too-distant future that allows me to achieve my goal of playing my entire career with the Colts."
Mathis arrived in town Wednesday and played in a charity softball game the next night. He refused to discuss his contract situation and wouldn't even say then if he planned to show up for Friday's workout.
The Colts didn't seem to care about the absences.
"We have to find a way to get better, that's our goal, that's my job," coach Jim Caldwell said. "My job is to get ourselves into the best position to win. I had an old motto when I was a young coach, and that is that coaching shows up."
Manning, like other veterans, wants all the contract stuff resolved before the Colts report to training camp Aug. 1. That way, the Colts can rely on a healthier Manning to make life miserable for everyone else in the league.
"You've still got to go out there and do it," Manning said. "I'm excited about the potential for this team, and hopefully, we can put it to good use."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press